For many, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje will always be known as Mr. Eko from Lost, but the versatile actor turned that run into a strong film career, which has led him to work with Robert De Niro (in Killer Elite) and was one of the stars of G.I. Joe. In The Thing, the 2011 prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter film of the same name he plays Derrick Jameson, who is partnered with Joel Edgerton’s character as a helicopter pilot. We got a chance to talk with him about the role and playing in horror films. Check it out…
Were you a fan of the original film?
A big fan. In the 80’s – growing up in England – there weren’t a lot of mentors, actors you could aspire to. In the (John) Carpenter original, it was the first time you saw black characters living to the end of the movies, and portrayed as individuals as opposed to their color. I thought the casting was great because it was diverse, and they were real characters, they were real guys. So that was a huge influence on me.
So you saw yourself stepping into the Keith David role, even though it’s a prequel?
I wouldn’t say stepping in, but certainly representing the African American demographic. It being a prequel, you always try to put your own stamp on things. It’s a different kind of character. I play Derrick Jameson, who’s a buddy to Carter, who’s played by Joel Edgerton. And we’ve set up a ferrying system at the Antarctic, which is a little different. Being British it was nice to play an American character, and knowing that David Foster – the original producer – was involved meant it would be steered in the right direction. Also a European director, coming from Europe I knew they hadn’t cast big names, so I knew they were casting a real movie.
In terms of horror movies is there a difference between European and American horror films?
I think they made an interesting decision in hiring Matthijs (van Heijningen Jr.) for the movie, I think they wanted that European element. Both have their strong points, but I think a European brings an intellectual side to it. You get more invested in the characters than just big bangs. And he was particularly insistent on the acting. The star of the movie is the thing, so we were in service of that. It’s an ensemble, so it’s all about actors – it was more of a drama – and we had to be real with the horror the suspense. This was the first movie like this I’ve done and it’s very hard to act like you’re scared and not overact, or trying to be too cool. So he was very insistent on keeping real, down to the Norwegians speaking Norwegian. And I like that. He’s an actor’s director.
That’s something I’ve always wondered about with horror movies, it seems that it’s hard to access fear and make it real, what did he say to you and how did you maintain it on take eight?
You’d be lucky to get that, actually. I think he knew you’d bring it by his choice of who he hired. And it was very much “less is more.” I think it was about delivery, he was very insistent on how you deliver. Don’t act scared, just, “what would you do in this moment?”
How did you react the first time you saw the creature?
I was physically repulsed. I think they did an amazing job, and they didn’t unveil it to us as a cast until the last quarter of the movie, so we shot it like a drama, then all of a sudden these prosthetic, animated creatures, very lifelike, and some were fashioned on the faces of the actors, and they’d be crawling and arms would fall off, tentacles would come out, it was very gory. And it was great for an actor to have that instead of a green screen and someone calling “now an arm falls off. Aaah.” I think there’s a point in the movie where you can see the reaction, and it’s real, because you can’t believe it. My first reaction was “are you kidding me?” (laughs)
You mentioned being a fan of the original what was your initial reaction upon reading the script, and doing it as a side prequel?
I was really happy there was a prequel. It makes you a little nervous when you’re doing a straight remake, and it was such a good original, that to tackle that is asking for trouble. For me – I did four movies this year and they’re all coming out now – and I liked the range. I played English against De Niro in Killer Elite, and this was American and it was a buddy role, and I just did a film where I’m the arch-enemy, and he’s a real meanie, but this guy gave me a chance to be cool and relaxed and affable, so it was a good choice, because it’s another side to the talent and the repertoire.
Did you have fun with the flamethrower?
You know what, I didn’t get to play with the flamethrower, except off camera (laughs). But I had a gun. I remember Matthijs was very insistent that there was only going to be one gun, and one shot, and one kill by a bullet because he said he was tired of watching movies where twenty bullets are fired and the guy will still get up. So there was one gun, and I had it, but they had the flamethrowers, and I wanted the flamethrowers, but I had the gun. And I shot someone with a flamethrower.
You spend most of your time on screen playing against Joel Edgerton, what was it like working with him?
Joel was great; he’s Australian and I’m British, so there was an immediate synergy there. You come into these movies and you’re supposed to play best buddies, and have known each other for 20 years, and I’d never met him in my life so you have to form that bond very quickly. It was very easy, we had a lot of things in common and we hung out – from day one we hit it off. Lots of pranks and fun on set.
What kind of pranks?
He loves to play with the vocabulary – shall we say. A lot of our scenes were shot in a pilot cabin, so you’ve got big tungsten lights on you, you’ve got five or six layers on you, dripping with sweat trying to look cold, and so you sit there for hours telling each other jokes, and very dirty ones to keep each other awake. Boy stuff.
The Thing opens October 14. Keep watching the skies.